Ex-Thai PM Thaksin granted bail in day of politically charged court hearings

Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecoms tycoon, was officially indicted for insulting the monarchy.
Wittayakorn Boonruang
2024.06.18
Bangkok
Ex-Thai PM Thaksin granted bail in day of politically charged court hearings This file photo shows former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra greeting his supporters after landing at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport on Aug. 22, 2023. Thai prosecutors on June 18, 2024, formally indicted the influential political figure.
Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was granted bail after being indicted for insulting the monarchy on Tuesday, in one of several high-profile court hearings that have stoked fears about a new period of political uncertainty in the Southeast Asian nation.

Thaksin’s formal indictment under Thailand’s strict Lèse-Majesté law stemmed from a 2015 interview in South Korea, in which he allegedly made critical comments about the monarchy during the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died a year later. 

The Thai Criminal Court in Bangkok granted Thaksin bail with a bond of 500,000 baht (U.S. $13,600), just hours after the attorney-general officially charged him with defaming the monarchy and the less serious offense of violating the Computer Crime Act. Lèse-Majesté carries a potential prison term of up to 15 years.

The court prohibited the billionaire telecoms tycoon from leaving the country and set a new hearing for Aug. 19. 

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that if granted temporary release during the trial, the defendant will not abscond, tamper with evidence, or cause other harm,” the court said in a statement. 

Thaksin’s lawyer Winyat Chatmontree, who submitted the bail bond, said his client was not worried about the case and ready to “enter the justice process.”

Thaksin has consistently denied the charges against him and his legal team has claimed investigators obtained evidence unlawfully at the behest of the military junta. The nearly decade-old case was filed by former Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr.

Thaksin fled Thailand after a 2006 military coup toppled his government, while his sister Yingluck Shinawatra suffered a similar fate in May 2014. While Thaksin returned home in August 2023, Yingluck still lives in exile.

Efforts to try Thaksin for royal defamation resumed following his return to Thailand to serve time on separate corruption charges. He was granted a royal pardon after spending six months almost entirely at a Bangkok hospital, and his suspended sentence will end in August.

AP24170208162094.jpg
Winyat Chatmontree, a lawyer for former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, talks to reporters at Criminal Court in Bangkok, June 18, 2024. [AP]

Thailand’s new government, which took power last September, is a coalition headed by Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party and includes partners with ties to the old junta.

The former arch rivals joined forces following months of post-election uncertainty, sidelining the Move Forward Party that won the most seats in Thailand’s election.

Yutthaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said Tuesday’s indictment was unlikely to silence Thaksin.

“We will likely see Thaksin continue to be politically active … the bail conditions do not prohibit expressing political opinions,” said Yutthaporn, who is also a member of parliament’s ad hoc committee studying the feasibility of a law granting amnesty for potentially thousands of people charged with politically motivated offenses. 

Case against the PM

Thaksin’s court case was one of three on Tuesday that has the potential to reshape Thailand’s political landscape. 

Thailand’s Constitutional Court set a new hearing of July 10 for a petition seeking to oust Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin from office. 

The case filed by 40 senators alleges Srettha violated the constitution by appointing an ally, Pichit Chuenban, as a minister despite his conviction for contempt of court in 2008.

Wissanu Krea-ngam, the prime minister’s legal advisor, told the media that the court had asked Srettha to provide more evidence and witnesses before meeting again. 

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court set July 3 as the next hearing date in a case seeking to dissolve the opposition Move Forward. 

The Election Commission has complained that the party’s campaign pledge to amend the royal insult law amounted to an attempt to “overthrow” the constitutional monarchy.

“The court has requested that individuals submit written statements affirming facts or opinions within seven days, in accordance with the issues specified by the Constitutional Court,” it said in a statement.

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